My Shop ~ Part 1

October 29, 2011

I’ve been making progress on the windows, but it is pretty much a solo affair that I can take care of myself. And now that the yard is in good shape, Armando has run out of work. There is some grinding to do on my welds, but not enough to keep him busy. As he is basically day labor, and I can tell him “that’s all for now,” but I run the risk of him finding other work and not being available when I next need him. Also, it is good to have him around for when I need to lift, tote, and carry.

So I decided to get him started building my shop, and I can go back to window work. After a lot of back and forth on what materials to use, I made my decision. I could use the M2 panels (foam sheets with a wire covering that gets stuccoed) or go with the Panamanian-style concrete block construction. I really like the M2 because it is very fast, very strong, and isn’t prone to cracks like the block work, but Armando isn’t familiar with it and it is more expensive. Also, I would like to turn him loose on the project without much supervision from me.

I decided on block construction. Once the corner columns are accurately placed, I can let Armando take over and run with it. He likes the idea, and it gives him a chance to work without the boss telling him what to do every ten seconds. He even said that he will start at 6:30 a.m. to beat the rain instead of our regular 8:00 a.m. I could immediately see his sense of ownership of the project.

The shop is going to be 20’x24′, and is located where the 20-foot container that we didn’t get was going to go. Here’s an archival photo of the four columns that we placed for the 20-footer:

And here are those columns now, sadly knocked to the ground with a twelve-pound sledge to make room for my new shop. It was a tough decision to make as we had worked so hard on the columns. But progress is progress I guess. Here the corner batter boards are in place, and Armando is digging holes for the footings for the concrete columns.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating; block work here is different than in the States.

In the States, every block is laid perfectly plumb and level. When a block wall is done, it very strong standing on its own. Just stand back and look at all the perfectly straight courses of blocks.

Here, the blocks generally have less cement in them and workers generally have less training. A concrete block wall in Panama isn’t meant to stand on its own. The process is to dig and pour footings for concrete columns, embedding in each footing four vertical pieces of rebar where the columns will go. When the footings have hardened, wooden forms are built around the upwardly protruding rebar and the columns are poured.

After the column form boards are removed, a trench connecting the columns is dug and a concrete footing is poured. As opposed to Stateside block work, this footing can be “kinda level.” The blocks are then laid “kinda” in rows, “kinda” straight and “kinda” level. When you get just shy of the top of the wall, form boards are nailed across the wall from column to column and a strengthening top beam is poured that includes more rebar. The blocks are basically infill and it is the columns and beams that provide integrity for the building. Then, a coat of repello (stucco) is troweled over the entire wall — columns, blocks, and beams. The wall is now pretty much straight and can function seismically.

While Armando was digging the footings, I made two forms for the columns.

These three-sided forms will be put in place around the rebar and then the fourth side will be nailed in place.

In the next two photos, these forms are standing tall and proud, and Armando is making the journey up the ladder five gallons of concrete at a time.

In my next few blog posts I’ll probably seesaw back and forth between the windows and the shop. That is unless another project catches my interest, such as building the metal bending brake that I want to make. The house has lots of opportunities for bent metal trim, and I want to make new, thicker lids (to hold more insulation) for our refrigerator and freezer (see A Really Cool Experiment).

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.